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3,700-Year-Old Tablet Decoded - What It Reveals Is Shaking Up The Scientific Community

Mysterious 3,700-year-old tablets have been stumping scientists for decades, but a new discovery has experts hopeful that they've solved the mystery. Scientists at the University of New South Wales Sydney in Australia believe the ancient Babylonian tablets were used for the construction of ancient structures. It may be the earliest and most accurate example of trigonometry.

Known best as the 'Plimpton 322' tablets, they were discovered in what is now southern Iraq in the early 1900's. The discovery is credited to Edgar Banks, who is believed to have been one of the real-life inspirations for the popular franchise film character, Indiana Jones.

Banks, an archeologist, academic, diplomat and antiques dealer, was an entrepreneurial archeologist as the Ottoman Empire began to fall. He bought hundreds of cuneiform tablets at the time and re-sold them in bundles to places like museums, universities and libraries. One of the more curious tablets he found were clay tablets that were dubbed the Plimpton 322. The tablets were so-named because they were part of the George Arthur Plimpton Collection at Columbia University, and they were assigned the number 322.

For decades, archeologists struggled to understand the meaning of the tablets, but there has been a breakthrough. Scientists now believe that the tablets display what is called Pythagorean triplets. The form of math was originally named after Greek mathematician Pythagoras; however, the tablets are dated to a thousand years before Pythagoras lived.

“Plimpton 322 has puzzled mathematicians for more than 70 years, since it was realized it contains a special pattern of numbers called Pythagorean triples,” says Dr. Daniel Mansfield in a statement. “The huge mystery, until now, was its purpose – why the ancient scribes carried out the complex task of generating and sorting the numbers on the tablet."

Mansfield, of the School of Mathematics and Statistics in the UNSW Faculty of Science, says the research team has figured it out. “Our research reveals that Plimpton 322 describes the shapes of right-angle triangles using a novel kind of trigonometry based on ratios, not angles and circles. It is a fascinating mathematical work that demonstrates undoubted genius,” he said. “The tablet not only contains the world’s oldest trigonometric table; it is also the only completely accurate trigonometric table, because of the very different Babylonian approach to arithmetic and geometry."

There are 15 rows on the tablet, which describe a sequence of 15 right-angle triangles. The triangles decrease in inclination. Before the advent of calculators, these could have been used to determine ratio. Unfortunately, because the edge of the left side of the tablet had been broken off before it was found, scientists had difficulty determining the purpose.

These triangles were probably used in the ancient world so that people could construct roadways, buildings and canals. “Plimpton 322 was a powerful tool that could have been used for surveying fields or making architectural calculations to build palaces, temples or step pyramids,” said Mansfield.

Jennifer Lee, a curator at Columbia University’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library, is excited about the find. She tells Fox News, "It is wonderful that Mr. Mansfield's work with Norman Wildberger is bringing more attention to this treasure of Columbia.”

Source: Fox News
Photo: YouTube

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